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Val Thorens’ Luge Cup: Getting in touch with your inner mountain child

click to enlarge Val Thorens
  • Val Thorens

Remember those wild toboggan runs when you were a kid? Flying down the hill, hanging on for dear life, hoping you were going to be able to make it to the flats without crashing? Or not…

Well, last weekend I got to relive those moments. And then some. I don’t really know how it happened actually. I was supposed to be an innocent bystander. But I should have known better…

“It’s right up your alley,” said the always-garrulous Jean Pierre Baralo, the organizer of the inaugural Luge Cup. “You’ll love the course. It’s fast. It’s fun. And there’s virtually no chance of getting hurt. Really — it’s a truly unique experience.” He tried not to smile (and that’s when I should have suspected something was up). “You could watch it if you want, Michel,” he said, grinning broadly. “But wouldn’t you rather race it?”

What was I going to say? Held at France’s Val Thorens — the highest resort in Europe — the Luge Cup was all about Snoweaters getting together and having some light-hearted on-mountain fun (or so said Baralo). There were ski coaches, ski instructors, racers, snowboarders, liftees, locals, weekenders and even foreign tourists — over 160 people had signed up for the race. How could I say no?

So I didn’t…

Imagine a six-kilometre long track with huge snowbanks on either side (to keep lugers from going “offpiste”) that drops 2,500 vertical feet and features countless hairpin turns, long straightaways, more turns, more straightaways and WAY too much potential for speed. That, in essence, is what the Val Thorens luge track is all about.

Now imagine sitting in a kid’s over-sized red plastic sled, with straps at the front for your feet, a leash around your leg in case you should get separated from the sled, and goofy hand brakes on either side that help you “control” your descent. “But don’t use the handbrakes,” said local freeride star Thomas Diet. “They’re way too slow. We’ve been experimenting with different techniques this winter and we’ve found that using your hands works best.”

And then he laughed. “It’s a pretty serious descent,” he said. “We’ve run the course a bunch of times now. But I’ll tell you, the first time I went down this year I almost pissed my pants. If you let your sled go, man, you can get some good speed going…”

That’s when I started to realize that I might have gotten myself into something bigger than Jean-Pierre had intimated.


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